The Ghost and the Darkness/Call Me Val Kilmer



I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in humbling situations.  During my last Burkinabe’ hurrah at Nazinga Animal Park my innate warrior-like ego was bruised.  Let me begin by saying my twin sister, Megan, is one of the bravest people I know for moving to Burkina Faso three years ago without knowing the language or a single soul.  Her boldness and fearless creativity are admirable. But in the same breath I can say with confidence, Megan is also one of the biggest scaredy cats I’ve ever had the privilege of loving. For example, if the lighting is dim, an exaggerated breath is enough to make her jump and grope for the nearest body.  And at our family cottage she doesn’t dare to walk to the end of the driveway past dusk for fear a bear might be waiting for her there.  You can see how it was easy for my pride to get in the way when I learned I’d be staying solo in a bungalow in the middle of Africa. I made sure to point out the fact that Megan wouldn’t survive a night alone with a sound mind under the same circumstances.  My story thus begins…

Megan, her husband Matt, and I arrived at Nazinga’s gate mid-afternoon.  We took an afternoon tour of the park, and we planned to wake up unsuitably early to tour a greater portion of the park before the heat consumed any bit of adventurous spirit.   Our goal was to see the elephants.  They roam in herds at the watering holes of Nazinga.  Unfortunately for us, our timing was poor and the heat was too intense, so every last elephant had apparently crossed the river into Ghana.  Our trip wasn’t in vain, however.  We saw plenty of warthogs, baboons, monkeys, assorted birds, several deer or elk or antelope species (I can’t quite be sure which was which), and I even spotted a Timon (as in the friend of Pumbaa).
The evening of our arrival we ate some sort of wild deer or elk or antelope (again, I can’t be sure what it was exactly) that the local staff graciously prepared.  After our fill of gamey, but tasty meat, and oiled potatoes, we retired to our separate bungalows. The bungalow was lit by one light bulb and the windows were covered by wide, metal shutter blinds, but there were gaps along the windows and in the door.  I opted to leave the outside light on to distinguish my bungalow from the darkness that swallowed up everything else.  It was in this decision that my mind started to conjure up unpleasant questions.  What would happen if I instead turned the light off and simply blended in with the black of Burkina?  If I kept the light on, who or what could see me…all alone?  Those questions led to doubts about the structural security of my bungalow. Anything with any bit of motivation would be able to break through that door or crawl through those windows.

I tried my best to shake those thoughts from my mind, I said my prayers (with an extra emphasis on personal safety), and I settled into bed.  I was hot and my skin was sticky, but I wasn’t willing to take any risks in the midst of my uncertainty.  I covered myself with the sheet and trusted in the protective powers of bed covers.  Within minutes of lying down, I heard the first bang. My heart leapt, but after a moment or two I reasoned myself back to relaxation. Then it happened again.  BANG! BAM! BAM!  I needed no additional confirmation; it wasn’t just my imagination. There were unholy creatures running amuck outside.  I didn’t dare leave my bed. Maybe they could sense movement. Maybe my movement would send them into a frenzy.  I shallowed my breath.  BAM! The creature, or creatures, hit the window right above my head. BANG!  They were on the roof.  BAM! BANG! They ran into the door. It was a full on attack, and all of my warrior-like courage had been flushed out through my pores alongside the profuse amounts of sweat. 
I realized I needed a plan. There were no phones, so I couldn’t call Megan and Matt for back-up.  Even if I could call, I couldn’t expect them to risk their safety during a beastly attack.  After several minutes and countless more bangs and bams, I had yet to come up with a functional plan.  Though, as a reaction to the incessant clamor I developed a paper thin tolerance to the noise.  With a bit of tolerance and all the gumption I could muster, I ditched my need for a plan and sprang into action.  (By “sprang into action,” I mean I tip-toed into lesser amounts of inaction.) I cautiously removed my humid sheets and slowly walked to each window and listened.  No sound.  In equally slow steps I made my way to the door. Through the cracks I could see light seeping in and just then a thought popped into my head. What if, like moths are attracted to light, these fearsome beasts were also attracted to the light outside my door?  At the risk of being devoured by the dark—or much worse, a nocturnal monster—I flipped the light off and then I waited. I continued to wait. There were no bangs.  There were no bams. It was quiet.   

After two terrifying hours I was able to finally rest.  The morning came with no additional incidents and I woke up unsuitably early as planned. When I met Megan and Matt for breakfast I asked if they too experienced similar disturbances.  They hadn’t.  I described the harrowing tale and humbly admitted to Megan I was bear-at-the-end-of-the-driveway scared. 
I still can’t be sure what type of animal haunted my night outside of Nazinga.  I suspect they were lizards now that I’ve had time to apply some logic to the situation. In my defense, if they were in fact lizards they certainly were the fierce, ferocious, dinosaur-like lizards…the kind worth being afraid of.